The Secret To Clear Skin: Does Milk And Dairy Cause Acne?

The Secret To Clear Skin

Drinking a glass of warm milk at night may not be good for you after all- well, at least for your skin.

Studies suggest that milk consumption is one of the most common reasons why people break out. And not all people are aware of it.

This is because we’re often told about how great milk is for the health.

Milk can provide your body with tons of nutrients, including vitamin A which is found essential for your skin’s health. Aside from this vitamin, milk also contains calcium that helps fight skin cancer and protein to keep your skin supple and elastic.

So, what makes something so healthy bad for you?

Read on to learn more.

How does milk cause acne?

There are a lot of factors, actually.


IGF-1 or Insulin-like Growth Factor is a type of growth hormone you’d find in cow’s milk. It’s meant to help baby cows grow.

For your skin, however, IGF-1 increases your skin proliferation. It also makes your skin produce more sebum.

If that isn’t enough, the hormone actually makes dead skin cells glue themselves together. As they clump up, the harder it becomes for your pores to get rid of them.

Because of these effects, the hormone is closely associated with acne formation. In fact, it’s even found to increase acne in women more than men.

Aside from the actual IGF-1 you get from milk, drinking it also causes your liver to produce more of the hormone. When there’ an increase in the level of IGF-1 in your blood, the more acne you’ll have.

DHT and testosterone

DHT, or Dihydrotestosterone, and testosterone are two types of androgens that are largely responsible for the increase in muscle mass, change in voice and development of more body hairs in men. In women, these hormones work more on increasing their sexual drive.

For these changes to happen, the hormones need to bind to the several androgen receptors in your body. For hair growth, for example, the hormones need to attach themselves to the receptors in your hair follicles.

When DHT and testosterone bind with the receptors in your sebaceous glands, they cause the glands to be hyperactive. This means bigger glands and more sebum- the right combination for acne formation.

Is testosterone in your milk?

The answer is “probably”. In fact, milk contains several types of hormones you never imagined it to have.

Aside from DHT and testosterone, it also has progesterone and estrogen- in great levels.

As early as the ‘80s, farmers have been injecting farm animals with growth hormones to make them bigger and heavier. These hormones, when consumed and ingested, can cause hormonal imbalance.


Apparently, it’s not just sweet foods that can affect your body’s insulin level. Drinking milk has an effect on it, too.

Insulin is the hormone your body produces to enable the transport of glucose to your cells as an energy source. 

When there’s a high level of insulin, it makes your body produce more sebum. On top of this effect, high insulin level also tends to increase the level of IGF-1.

Inflammatory chemicals

Not all cows are bred and kept in favorable conditions. Some of them stay in areas that are filled with pesticides, bacteria and chemicals that attack their immune systems.

As a reaction to these factors, cows develop antibodies to protect themselves. Unfortunately, however, a cow’s immune system isn’t capable of thoroughly getting rid of these substances and microorganisms.

In fact, even the process of pasteurization can’t completely eliminate them. Hence, the pesticides, bacteria and chemicals get transferred in their milk.

Once you drink milk, similar to the cows’ reaction, your immune system initiates the same immune response to eliminate the said factors. This makes your pores larger and inflamed in an attempt to flush them out.

Can Lactose Intolerance Make Your Skin Break Out?

Lactose intolerance refers to your body’s inability to digest lactose, which is the main form of sugar you’ll find in milk. Its primary cause is the lack of the enzyme lactase in your intestine.

The primary symptoms of this condition involve gastrointestinal manifestations. It can include abdominal pain, nausea, flatulence and diarrhea.

Generally, lactose intolerance shouldn’t cause you to break out. If it does, it’s probably a different condition. It might be an allergic reaction.

Milk protein allergy is the negative reaction of the body against the protein found in milk. It manifests similarly with lactose intolerance which can cause confusion.

While both of them can cause stomach pain, milk protein allergy can cause hives and rashes. Depending on your immune response, it can be mild or even severe.

Does Dairy Cause Acne?

Apparently, it’s not only milk that can trigger skin breakouts. Studies point out that decreasing intake of both milk and dairy products can lessen the chances of acne formation.

This includes cheese, butter, yogurt and even ice cream. Basically, almost everything that’s made from milk.

Dairy products are generally hard to digest. Because they are hard to break down, it will take time before dairy products get digested and eliminated from the body.

The longer they stay in your digestive tract means the greater chances they can accumulate and lead to toxin build up. These toxins see their best way out through your skin.

Should You Avoid Milk and Dairy Products?

I would have to say yes.

If milk is causing you to break out, then cutting it out from your diet may probably be the best thing you can do for your skin. It can be a hard decision, I know.

There is, fortunately, an alternative solution. The key is to find milk that isn’t processed.

Raw and organic milk usually comes from healthy cows which means they have less chemicals and bacteria that can trigger an inflammatory response. Fermented milk and milk kefir are also good choices because they contain a high amount of good bacteria.

You should remember, however, that although these milk types contain less chemicals and bacteria, they can still contain hormones that can make you break out.

You can try replacing your milk with an organic one for around two weeks to a full month. If you don’t see any positive changes in your skin, then you’ll probably need to avoid milk- completely.

Try Dairy Milk Substitutes

Instead of drowning your thoughts over what you can’t eat, why not think of the things that you can eat without causing you to break out?

There are actually a lot of dairy milk substitutes. You may even have encountered most of them while picking up your milk from the grocery store.

Almond Milk

Almond milk is starting to increase in popularity as a dairy milk substitute for a number of reasons. For one, it doesn’t have the hormones cow milks have that cause acne.

Aside from this property, almond milk is also rich in vitamin E which we all know is a great antioxidant. Low levels of vitamin E has been closely associated with the development of acne which means drinking almond milk can help increase your serum vitamin E level.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk contains a high amount of saturated fats which means it can increase your cholesterol. Too much cholesterol can put you at risk of several medical conditions, including heart problems.

Cholesterol has also been linked to a few skin issues. While it may not directly cause acne, it can lead to the formation of small fat deposits in your skin called xanthomas.

They can develop in any part of your body, particularly your face, knees and even your hands. Xanthomas closely resemble acne which explains why some people think coconut milk can cause breakouts

Soy Milk

There’s no solid evidence that can link soy milk with acne but it’s believed to affect women’s hormones. Its isoflavone content has been found to lower acne formations.

But, hold on.

Although there’s a study that proves soy milk’s benefit against acne, it isn’t always the case. Soy milk can also cause hormonal imbalance that can trigger acne.

There are also cases of soy milk causing allergic reactions in some people.These substitutes don’t offer as much threat to your skin as cow’s milk does. However, it doesn’t mean that they are guaranteed to not cause acne.

Results still vary from person to person. What may work for your friend may not yield the same results on you, even if you have the same acne issues or the same skin type.


Milk is a healthy drink, no doubt about that.

However, for your acne, it’s best if you can avoid drinking milk or any milk products. Eliminating it from your diet can help improve your skin in just a matter of weeks.

Now, don’t get too excited.

While removing milk from your diet can decrease your chances of breaking out, it doesn’t mean you have to rely on it entirely in clearing up your acne. Aside from this change in your diet, you still need to have a good skincare routine.

Picking the right food to eat is as essential as selecting the right skin care products to use to combat acne. Your skin breaks out for a couple of different reasons which means that if you want to completely eliminate them, it’s critical that you address all of the factors that could be causing them in the first place.

Do you break out from milk? What dairy milk alternatives have you tried?

The Secret To Clear Skin: Does Milk And Dairy Cause Acne?

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The Secret To Clear Skin: Does Milk And Dairy Cause Acne?

Dr Kathleen May Eusebio-Alpapara

A board-certified dermatologist who practices both medical and cosmetic dermatology

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